THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND

A Chinese Story

translated by George Souliť

 

In the beautiful Chu-san archipelago there is a small island where the flowers never cease blooming, and where the trees grow thick and high. From the most remote antiquity nobody has been known to live in the shade of this virgin forest; the ferns, the creepers, are so entangled that it is impossible for a man to cross this wilderness without clearing his way with a hatchet.

A young student named Chang, who lived in the City-over-the-sea, used to rest himself from his daily labour by going out to sea in a small junk he managed himself.

Having heard of the mysterious island, he resolved to explore it, prepared wine and food, and sailed out on a beautiful summer's morning.

Towards midday he neared the place where the island was supposed to be. Soon a delicious perfume of flowers was brought to him by the hot breeze. He saw the dark green of the trees over the light green of the sea, and, when still nearer, the yellow sand of the beach, where he resolved to disembark.

The junk touched the shore; he tied it to a large fallen tree whose end dipped into the gentle waves, and proceeded at once to a hearty meal.

While he was storing again in the boat what remained of his provisions, he was suddenly startled by a subdued laugh. Turning his head, he saw among the wild roses of the shore, a young girl covered with a long blue dress, who looked at him with dark eyes full of flame.

"Your servant is most happy to see you here. I did not suppose I should ever have the pleasure of meeting you."

"Who are you?" asked Chang, forgetting, in his astonishment, the proper forms of inquiry.

"I am only a poor singer who has been brought here by The-Duke-of-the-sea."

Chang, hearing these words, was afraid in his heart; The-Duke-of-the-sea was a renowned pirate who used to plunder every village of the coast, and was reputed to be cruel and vindictive. But the girl was so attractive that he soon forgot everything in the pleasure of her chatter.

Seated at the foot of a big tree, they were laughing, when a noise came from the forest.

"It is The-Duke-of-the-sea! It is The-Duke-of-the-sea!" murmured the girl. "I must be off at once."

And she disappeared behind the foliage.

While Chang was asking himself what he should do, he suddenly saw a huge snake coming straight to him. Its body was as thick as a cask, and so long that the end was still hidden in the forest, while the head was balancing over the frightened student.

Chang could not say a word and dared not move: the snake entwined himself round a tree and round the man, holding fast its prisoner's arms. Then, lowering its head, it threw out its tongue, and, pricking the student's nose, began to suck the blood which came out and fell on the ground.

Chang saw that, if he did not immediately free himself, he would certainly die. Feeling cautiously with his hand round his waist, he took from his purse a certain poisoned pill that he kept there and intended to try on wolves and foxes. With two fingers he took the pill and threw it into the red pool at his feet.

The snake, of course, sucked it with the blood; it immediately stopped drinking, straightened its body, and rocked its head to and fro, knocking the tree-trunks and hissing desperately.

Chang, feeble and hardly able to stand, dragged himself as fast as he could out of reach on to the beach and quickly untied his boat. Nevertheless, before going out to sea, he fetched a sword and went cautiously into the wood again. The snake did not move. Chang flourished his sword, and with a mighty stroke cut the head off and ran to his boat.

He returned to the City-over-the-sea, went to bed and was ill for a month. When he spoke of his experience, he always said that, to his mind, it was the beautiful girl he had seen at first who had come again in the form of a snake.